I sent my son upstairs to get dressed for school. It was time to put his favourite shorts and t-shirt into the washing machine and I was wondering what he would find to wear instead. After a while, he turned up in the kitchen all dressed…in his Ninja Turtle onesie (yes, pyjamas).
“Have you seen what Jake’s wearing to school today?” my husband and I asked each other later on.
“Do you think we should let him wear it?”
We were concerned that Jake may get teased by some of the other children and we wanted to protect him from the potential humiliation and hurt. However, it’s important to us that our boys make authentic decisions, not decisions based on what other people might think. So we decided not to question Jake about his decision and, with some trepidation, I dropped him off at school in his outfit of choice.
With all the best intentions, it’s easy for us to over-protect our children and we do so in many different ways. We just want them to be happy and, mistakenly, we believe that smoothing the bumps on their road through childhood will make it a happier journey for them. Protecting them from negative possibilities may, in the short run, be easier but it doesn’t prepare them for adulthood, in which there is no-one smoothing out the road for us. Adults have to navigate all the potholes, hills and bad drivers themselves.
Ultimately, our children’s long-term happiness is compromised by our over-protection.
WE DON’T WANT TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE GOOD STUFF
Taking risks, making mistakes, getting up again – this is the stuff of life. It adds flavour to our experience and it’s “character-building”. If we protect our children from these ups-and-downs, we deny them valuable opportunities –
To learn lessons We learn our lessons best by making mistakes for ourselves, rather than being warned about them by someone else. How often do we watch our children ignore our advice only to end up thinking, if not saying, “You should have listened, I told you so?” – hundreds!
To strengthen their resilience Through stumbling, we learn how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If children don’t get the chance to trip over the stuff of childhood, they’ll struggle to recover from the inevitable challenges of adulthood. Resilience is a learned skill and, like any other, developed through practice.
To develop their judgement The only way to develop good judgement is by using it. Children need the space to practise making decisions for themselves without us coaching them and interrupting their process. Any decision that doesn’t turn out well teaches them something that will help them to make a better choice next time.
To have a sense of agency Our children’s lives are their own and it’s not for us to interfere any more than is necessary. In conjunction with The Universe, they each decided to live a life on Earth and we need to allow them the space to follow their instincts and have the experiences intended. I want my boys to feel empowered and to understand that their lives are ultimately their own to shape and, to do that, I need to get out of the way!
To deepen their trust in the world Over-protecting our children doesn’t communicate our faith in them or in The Universe. As a parent who understands that we are spiritual beings, part of a greater whole, I know that we each have all the wisdom that we need within us and that The Universe is helping us along. By controlling their lives, we give the messages to our children that they can’t handle it and The Universe won’t support them. This sets them up for living in fear, rather than faith, which is a stressful way to live.
To have fun The fun stuff can be risky! When we teach our children to be over-cautious, they can become risk-averse and miss out on lots of fun. We’ve probably all stood on the sidelines of a super-fun activity that our children have refused to participate in. We feel sorry to see them miss out on a good time. This happens sometimes for all children but, if it happens regularly, it’s worth considering whether we have been over-protective or if it’s just that our child is more tentative by nature (and, if they are, that’s ok).
IN SUMMARY – THE AMBULANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CLIFF
Protection is a part of our parenting role but it is a smaller part than I first thought. I have slowly loosened my grip and am increasingly willing to let my boys take calculated risks. I would not let my 3-year-old cross the road by himself but I give him free reign at playgrounds. It’s not easy, my heart is in my throat as he navigates trickier equipment and higher heights each time but, if it’s not life-threatening, I let him do it. I’m sure, that I’m becoming more resilient as he is. And I can see that he’s actually really good at judging his own capability.
Our job is not to smooth the road for our children but to enable them to choose their own path and weather the bumps. We’re not so much the police who cordon-off dangerous areas to keep our children safe as much as we are the paramedics who arrive to help them recover from an accident. When I find myself wanting to tell my boys to “be careful”, I stop myself to decide if it’s really necessary. I often end up saying “that looks like fun” instead.
As for Jake – he wore his Ninja Turtle onesie to school three days in a row until it was time for it to go in the washing machine too. If anyone had been unkind to him, he obviously didn’t care because he didn’t tell me. I was so proud of him for being himself and so pleased I hadn’t tried to talk him out of doing what he wanted to.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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